By Diane Payne
On Monday, I went to 440 N. Broad Street to testify regarding the 40 charter school applications being submitted this week. I wasn’t able to be there all day for the presentations, so I didn’t hear the bells and whistles that Monday’s group of charter school applicants presented. I was speaker 29 and discovered that a fellow public school advocate was speaker 30. I left after the 30th speaker and want to note that only four people were there to speak against the expansion of charters. The 26 other speakers were students, parents, politicians, community leaders and charter school personnel that spoke in favor of their particular charter of choice. This included the newly elected president of the NAACP.
In addition to hearing the virtues of the “charter of choice”, it was very disheartening to often hear the disparaging remarks made about public schools. I really, really urge any public school advocate to try to get down to 440 N. Broad Street, 2nd floor auditorium on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday to offer your 3 minutes of public testimony to say “NO MORE CHARTERS” and to support our neighborhood public schools. The total time from sign in to the end of speaker 30 was 1 1/2 hours.
Here is my testimony from Monday.
I am speaking today to request that the SRC suspend the consideration of any further charter school applications. The current rhetoric of our families needing “choice” is a false dialogue laced with false hope and false promises. What you are deciding today isn’t about giving parents choice it is about taking away a basic, founding principle of our country…a free and quality public education for all. Not a mish-mash of unregulated “choices” which promotes itself as an easy answer to complex problems. The complex problems of poverty, English as a second language, broken families, abuse, unequal job opportunity, lack of health care, crime to name a few, do not have easy answers and will not be fixed by Charter Schools. There is more and more hard evidence coming out on a daily basis that point to the problems inherent in charter school expansions. To name only some:
*Charter school expansion causes the further starving of public schools
*Fraud and financial mismanagement that enrich savvy members of the charter school network via real estate deals, management contracts, service contracts, equipment purchases, and pricey CEO salaries
*Lack of transparency in operation and finance
*Re-segregation of student populations
*Failure to mirror the neighborhood school’s demographics because of how students are admitted and then how students are retained if problems of any nature arise
*Here in Philadelphia, an absolute budget crisis that cannot sustain any further draining of resources
*And last but not least a total lack of available oversight again due to lack of resources
Although there are reputable and honorable charter schools functioning and helping children that do not mirror these problems, it is difficult if not impossible with the lack of fair regulation and oversight to manage the current number of schools, much less additional ones.
These problems relating to charter schools are not unique to Philadelphia. It is a nationwide issue that is harming our poor and urban areas. You will notice that you rarely find Charter Schools in wealthy suburban districts and that is only because you don’t find the complex problems I previously mentioned in those neighborhoods either. Expansion of charter schools will not be the savior of education but they could be the demise of a cornerstone of our democracy, fair and equitable public school for all.
Please do not expand charter school options at this time. Thank you.